After being down 14-10 at the end of the first half, Western Kentucky's Brandon Doughty led an offensive explosion in the third quarter that guided the Hilltoppers to a 45-35 victory in the Miami Beach Bowl.
The Hilltoppers got their offense going pretty quickly after USF's missed field goal to begin the second half. It took the Hilltoppers just three plays for Doughty to find his favorite target, Nicholas Norris, for a 69-yard touchdown pass.
USF promptly responded with a three-and-out. Again, it took WKU just three plays to find the endzone. This time, it was a 55-yard pass from Doughty to Norris that got the score.
The Bulls showed in their next drive that they weren't quite out of it yet. Starting at their own 8-yard line, the Bulls worked their way down the field. The featured running game was unable to do much on this drive, so head coach Willie Taggart pulled a trick out of his sleeve to send a spark into his offense. Quarterback Quinton Flowers handed it off to D'Ernest Johnson who rolled out to the right and hurled a pass down the field to Tyre McCants for the touchdown to put the Bulls right back into the game.
WKU's offense just wouldn't slow down though. The Bulls did manage to keep them from scoring in three plays again, but they were not able to keep them from scoring as a whole. WKU led an 8-play, 69-yard drive that culminated with a touchdown run from Nacarius Fant.
Following another three-and-out from the Bulls, WKU took just one play to score, a beautiful 26-yard touchdown pass from Doughty to Jared Dangerfield to close out the third quarter.
Go up and get it, Jared Dangerfield! #SCtop10 https://t.co/rK8w9Td3JO— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 21, 2015
The Bulls would not quit. USF opened up the fourth quarter with a quick two-play drive that ended with a 53-yard touchdown pass from Quinton Flowers to Rodney Adams. In the ensuing drive, the Bulls defense would force a three-and-out (their first since the first quarter) and drive down the field again, though, this time with a 6-play, 75-yard drive that finished with a touchdown run from Flowers.
The Hilltoppers looked to be back on track on their next drive with two big passes for two first downs. A couple plays later, though, Doughty threw his second interception of the day. lining the Bulls up at the 50-yard line down three points. WKU's defense was able to stand strong though, as they were able to force a 54-yard field goal try that sailed wide left. The Hilltoppers would score two plays later and end the game at the final score of 45-35.
How did Western Kentucky win the game?
The short answer is that they did what they've done all year long. They scored a lot of points. Even after getting off to a slow point, the Hilltopper's offense exploded for five touchdowns in the second half, with four of those coming in three plays or less. They were explosive and worked quickly.
Brandon Doughty had a phenomenal day, finishing 32-of-45 (71.1 percent completion) for 461 yards, three touchdowns and two picks. His favorite target, Nicholas Norris, also had a good day, hauling in five catches for 120 yards and two touchdowns.
Doughty also did a good job of spreading the ball around with seven different Hilltoppers getting at least a pass, with five of those averaging over 11 yards per catch.
Western Kentucky was also able to balance their passing attack with a 100-yard rushing performance from Anthony Wales (105 yards in 14 carries with two touchdowns).
Defensively, there isn't much reason they should have won, since Quinton Flowers managed to pass for 273 yards and three total touchdowns (two rushing), while also having Flowers and Marlon Mack run for 100 yards apiece. They also didn't force any turnovers.
Really, the defense got just enough stops for the offense to win the game for them.
How did South Florida lose the game?
Just like there is not much reason Western Kentucky should have won this game because of their defense, USF doesn't have much of an excuse on offense for this loss. They scored 35 points, had two 100-yard rushers and had an all-around good game.
Defensively, however, well that's another story. The Hilltoppers held onto the ball for 31-and-a-half minutes and accumulated 612 yards of total offense while posting 45 points. Even though they picked off one of the best quarterbacks in the country twice, it was not enough for the Bulls defense to stand strong.
Things really started to go wrong for the Bulls in the third quarter with the 28-point explosion by the Hilltoppers. The Bulls showed some potential on defense, holding them to just 10 points in the first half, but as their second half showed, they still have a ways to go on defense.